Table of Contents
Understanding the overlap between fibromyalgia, known for widespread pain, and long COVID, where symptoms linger post-infection, is essential. Recent studies from the University of Texas at Austin and Ohio State University offer significant insights into these distinct yet similar conditions.
Introduction to Long COVID Research
Millions of people are still living with the scars of the pandemic. While about 10-15% of people who develop COVID may go on to suffer from long COVID, a team of virologists and doctors from the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) has given us some important insights about this syndrome. 2 studies published in Scientific Reports and the journal Biomedicines, pave the way for a better definition of the syndrome so that it is not confused with other diseases with similar symptoms, such as fibromyalgia.
Advancements in Long COVID Understanding
The team has managed to clarify the clinical picture of long-term COVID-19 and develop new diagnostic methods to distinguish this syndrome from other diseases. As understanding this long form of COVID-19 evolves, so does the clinical definition by health organs, including the NIH. Currently, the long form of COVID continues to be characterized mainly by symptoms that persist for weeks, months, or even years after a person’s initial infection. Even people with no symptoms at the time of the acute infection can develop symptoms later.
“There is therefore a great need to better define the clinical picture in order to provide patients with the best possible treatment,” explains Dr. W. Michael Brode, Director of UTA’s Post-COVID-19 Program. “Our research not only refines the definition and treatment needs of COVID but also reveals innovative diagnostic methods that can identify and diagnose the syndrome even when traditional tests fail.”
Insights from the UTA Study
An initial study of 252 affected patients provides a new understanding of the long-term experiences of COVID-19 patients. The study raises awareness of complex and debilitating symptoms, which persist regardless of the severity of the original infection, the patient’s age, gender, or pre-existing comorbidities:
- On average, patients experience 18 new symptoms after recovering from the infection: these include fatigue (in 89% of patients), “brain fog” (89%) and difficulty concentrating (77%).
- Almost half of the patients show cognitive dysfunction in tests and 65% and 73% of patients complain of a deterioration in their mental and physical health.
- The syndrome also significantly affects patients’ ability to work, leading to a reduction in full-time employment and an increase in unemployment rates.
Collaborative Research with Ohio State
Another groundbreaking study carried out in collaboration with a team from Ohio State, documents a new blood test that can distinguish fibromyalgia patients from long COVID-19 patients with 100% accuracy.
The team describes a promising approach to differentiating long COVID-19 from fibromyalgia. The approach is important because fibromyalgia causes symptoms that overlap with the symptoms of long COVID-19. The researchers point out that neither disease currently has a diagnostic test. The study of 100 adult patients, half diagnosed with COVID and half with fibromyalgia, led to the discovery of a distinct chemical marker in the blood of fibromyalgia patients, a specific signature not found in patients with long COVID. This work, which paves the way for faster and easier diagnosis, will allow for better-targeted interventions.
These two studies provide concrete advances in medical practice. With the ability to distinguish long COVID from fibromyalgia, doctors can now offer more precise diagnoses and personalized treatments, directly impacting patient care. This represents a significant step forward in managing these complex conditions, ultimately improving patient health and well-being.
Aziz, R., Siles, N., Kelley, M. et al. Clinical characteristics of Long COVID patients presenting to a dedicated academic post-COVID-19 clinic in Central Texas. Sci Rep 13, 21971 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-48502-w
Hackshaw KV, Yao S, Bao H, de Lamo Castellvi S, Aziz R, Nuguri SM, Yu L, Osuna-Diaz MM, Brode WM, Sebastian KR, et al. Metabolic Fingerprinting for the Diagnosis of Clinically Similar Long COVID and Fibromyalgia Using a Portable FT-MIR Spectroscopic Combined with Chemometrics. Biomedicines. 2023; 11(10):2704. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines11102704